6 Top Tips for using exercise to get better sleep
There is little doubt that exercise can help you sleep better. I've written an article that explains the science between sleep and exercise in a bit more detail - you can read here...
These are my top tips that are based on the latest scientific research that will help you get the most out of exercising for better sleep:
1. Find an activity you enjoy
Any activity that increases your heart rate will help. Group activities and classes are a fun way to exercise on a consistent basis, but the most important thing is to enjoy what you do, because that will keep you coming back for more.
2. Get into a routine that helps you exercise frequently (30mins, 5 times a week is ideal)
Consistency is king - even if you don't hit your 30minutes, try and do something at least 5 times a week that gets your heart rate up. Test out different routines to find what works best for you.
3. Evening exercise can be great, but avoid highly competitive or stressful activities
Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety and relax after a hard day. However, highly competitive sport can also get in the way: high activation levels make it hard to fall asleep and cause you to wake up more often during the night. It can take several hours to 'come down' from a bout of intense or stressful exercise, so plan ahead. Yoga and stretching are great evening activities that help you relax.
4. If you do exercise in the evenings, allow yourself time to cool down before bed
Temperature is a key factor for sleep; the act of cooling down makes you drowsy so ensure you have enough time to properly cool off between exercise (and the proceeding hot shower!) and bedtime (usually 30-90mins minimum). You could try experimenting with a cold shower but I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a relaxing activity before bed!!
5. Avoid pre-workout caffeine drinks in the evening (and afternoon) and don’t overdo heavy post-training meals right before bed
Caffeine is a stimulant that raises your heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline release - the effects of one cup of coffee can stay in your system for 5hours and energy drinks usually have at least double the amount of caffeine in them. Heavy, rich or spicy foods close to bedtime also delay your ability to fall asleep and sugar causes a spike in blood glucose that increases your energy levels - so be aware of the content of your post exercise meals if they happen later in the evening.
6. Early morning exercise helps you feel awake and alert
Natural light first thing in the morning supports your circadian rhythm, helping you feel awake and alert. You are also raising your body temperature which fires up your body and organ function. It's often easier to build a consistent routine of early morning exercise and the effects make you more productive throughout the day, and help you sleep better at night.
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